It was a happy coincidence that I chose to add The Republic of Love to my 50 Classics in Five Years list. A new edition was being published and I had been invited to take part in a promotional blog tour. I was drawn in by the synopsis, the cover and the fact that so many people had such wonderful things to say about the work of Carol Shields. I accepted the blog tour and added the book to my list of classics.
Before this, Carol Shields had not registered on my radar before. In the opening pages of the book there is a quotation from the publisher
One can recognise greatness in literature by the way authors speak to us, unhindered by distance either in time or in space. We can hear their voices as clear as day, their language feels modern, their stories universal. Carol Shields os one of these great writers.’World Editions, 2021 edition of The Republic of Love
How are ‘classics’ determined? Britannica define ‘Classical Literature’ as “the literature of any language in a period notable for the excellence and enduring quality of its writers’ works.” The Republic of Love was first published in 1992 and in this 2021 edition there is a foreword by Margaret Atwood who informs us that it was Shield’s ‘first literary breakthrough…in terms of audience size.’ In her lifetime she won many literary accolades including The Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for her novel The Stone Diaries, and The Orange Prize (now The Women’s Prize for Fiction) in 1998 for Larry’s Party. Now, nearly 18 years after her death (and 29 years since The Republic of Love was first published), her books are being discovered by a new generation of readers thanks to publishers such as World Editions. It is important that we keep talking about books such as these, works of brilliance that seem timeless in their construction and storytelling ability. A legacy that will continue as long as we keep championing them.
Carol Shields herself didn’t hold much importance on a ‘literary legacy’…
… I don’t think literary reputations live on, very few of them. Books, you know, fall out of the public eye. So I don’t have a sense of leaving anything permanent at all. I suppose one thinks of one’s children as what you leave permanently, and their children. Naturally I like to write books that people enjoy reading, but the literary legacy, no it’s very unimportant to me.Carol Shields – The Carol Shield’s Literary Trust
…yet here we are and her books are still popular, still relevant and still wonderful. For me it has been a real joy to discover her and I now look forward to discovering many more of her books, short stories, poetry and so much more. You can get a brilliant insight into the breadth of her work by visiting The Carol Shield’s Literary Trust’s website.
Earlier this month I took part in the Random Things Blog Tour for The Republic of Love and at the time I wasn’t quite finished reading. I was enjoying it so much that I couldn’t quite force myself to rush through. Now I have come to the end, turned the final page and I’d now like to tell you a little more about this wonderful, wonderful novel.
At over 400 pages it isn’t a small read but at no point did it feel onerous. It was simply a joy and there is not one page, sentence or word that I would have left out. It is a celebration of love. A unique, elegant and beautifully told story that celebrates two lonely, ordinary people who (finally) meet and fall in love. That is the baseline but there is so much more within the pages of this novel. We cross paths with an eclectic mix of characters, each one bringing something to the tale. There is realism, the wonderful relatable ordinariness of life. The ups and downs, the fallouts, the mundane. It really is captivating.
Tom and Fay live opposite each other but never quite meet. We spend a good portion of the book getting to know them and the lives they live. This is, I think, part of the charm. The anticipation, their backstories and their hopes and dreams are laid before us until one day the stars align and the two meet. Carol brilliantly brought this together and it is one of those beautiful, memorable moments that sparkles and lingers in the mind long after you finish the story.
This is a rich book filled with intelligence, insightful observations of human nature and the beauty and heartbreak that comes with the quest for love. Searching for it, having it, losing it and missing it. If you haven’t yet read Carol Shields then I urge you to do so and if you have but a long time ago then do pick her up again. I am personally thrilled to have discovered her and I look forward to reading more. Oh how lucky I am to be discovering her books for the first time! But I have no doubt that they will stay on my bookcase and be read and read again for years to come.
If you too would like to discover some ‘classics’ of your own and would like to join The Classics Club then please visit their website for further information.
Synopsis – The Republic of Love
On love and the absence of love
A celebration of love in its many guises, The Republic of Love
recounts the heartfelt tale of two of life’s unlucky lovers: Fay, a
folklorist whose passion for mermaids has kept her from focusing on
any one man; and, right across the street, Tom, a popular radio talk-
show host who’s been through three marriages and divorces in his
search for true happiness.
Touching and ironic, The Republic of Love
flies the flag for ordinary love between ordinary people.
About the author
Carol Shields (1935–2003) was born in the United States, and emigrated to Canada when she was 22. She is acclaimed for her empathetic and witty, yet penetrating insights into human nature. Her most famous novel The Stone Diaries was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, along with the Governor General’s Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Happenstance was praised as her tour de force, masterly
combining two novels in one. The international bestseller Mary Swann was awarded with the Arthur Ellis Award for best Canadian mystery. In 2020, the Carol Shields Prize for Fiction, a North American literary award dedicated to writing by women, was set up in her honor. Her work has been published in over 30 languages.
You can discover more about Carol by visiting the official Carol Shields website here.
You can order a copy of The Republic of Love through your local bookshop or online. Visit the publisher, World Editions for online stockists or you can order via Hive.co.uk or Bookshop.Org and also support independent bookshops.